Here’s a test.
Think about a former classmate. Just one. What is the first thing that comes to mind?
Chances are your memory is how there was something about that person that really stood out and how that person treated you and/or others, right?
I had one of those very moments today. I was scrolling through Facebook and a former classmate of mine, Justin Johnson, the head girls and boys volleyball coach at Saegertown, shared a link to a story about the resignation of Northeastern boys volleyball coach Matt Wilson.
Now, even though Wilson’s team was stationed almost five hours away in York County, they were arch rivals to so many teams in Crawford County. If you wanted a state title, you had to go through Northeastern more times than not to achieve that goal.
The Bobcats were incredible. So skilled. Always prepared. Just plain good.
But, again, if you were from Crawford County and liked boys volleyball, you hated them. You know, one of those, “Ugh. Not them,” kind of teams.
While that is a pretty true assessment as far as my memory of Northeastern boys volleyball goes, it certainly wasn’t the first thing I thought of when I saw the photo of Matt Wilson appear on my phone screen. See, as good as that team was, Wilson was always humble. He also welcomed interviews during my days as a reporter with The Meadville Tribune. And those interviews almost always started with his reflection of how good the opponent was that his team just played.
So what was the first thought when that photo popped up on my Facebook feed today?
“Wow, he was a great guy,” I thought. “Class act.”
Where am I going with this you might ask?
I covered a lot of volleyball in my 20-year career at The Meadville Tribune. However, Rocky Grove was never a part of that experience. I honestly don’t recall ever covering the team.
But, boy, did I luck out this year. I, like the entire Rocky Grove community, was impacted by a group of girls and their historic journey not just because of the success they had, but by who they were en route to that success.
In fact, the very first time I watched the Lady Orioles this season (and maybe ever), the thing I noticed was just how much they seemed to like playing together. During that match against Jamestown, I saw them celebrate success just as much as they celebrated misfortune. They were there to pick each other up and to make a positive impact on each other in whatever way they could.
And it started with four incredible seniors, whose impact will be seen for years to come.
Just who are Abby Williams, Devin Rhoads, Sarah Plumer and Rylee Reed you might ask? We did a little Q&A with the foursome.
RR: “My top memory of all time is when we all went to Kennedi’s and made Tik Toks in her pool.”
AW: “My sophomore year we were playing Sharpsville and it was the fifth set. The score was 14-14 and it was my serve. A backstory from this team, the previous year they beat us in three sets easy. But I remember everyone screaming, the intensity was high. Gymnastics is still embedded in my performances in which I always do best under pressure. I made my first serve over and we got the point so it was now 15-14 us. I ended the game with an ace. My adrenaline was at an all time high as my entire team started jumping and freaking out with excitement. This was one of the most exhilarating feelings in my sports career.”
DR: “My top memory is being able to finally beat Youngsville my junior year after losing to them previously.”
SP: “My top memory of my volleyball career is anything involving birdgang. They’ve had our backs through every game, win or lose. They definitely saved us on more than one occasion, whether it’s distracting the other team or giving us energy when we needed it the most.”
DR: “My top memory of the 2021 season was the long bus rides that we were able to bond and get even closer, especially coming off of a win.”
AW: “Our volleyball tournament at Redbank Valley was an extremely memorable tournament. The night before was the rivalry football game of Oil City vs Franklin. Then we all went back to my house and stayed up super late to wake up at 7 the next morning to play all day. By the end of the tournament, we all wanted to kill each other because of how tired we were yet were all so proud of each other for how far we made it.”
SP: “My top memory of this season in particular is hearing from everyone how much we’ve improved in recent years and how impressed they are with our program. I’m so happy to see Coach Stevenson’s hard work paying off from the past eight years. We finally found the perfect mix of teammates and coaches to take us higher than Rocky Grove volleyball has ever gone. I’m forever grateful to my girls as well as Coach Proper and Coach Stevenson.”
RR: “My favorite memory from this season was when we stayed at Abby’s and played Just Dance.”
AW: “I hope to leave the impression of what being a leader is. Often times women are labeled as ‘bossy’ when leading. Although I’m sure I came off that way at times, I hope you guys know that it’s okay to take charge. Be the captain of the team. Don’t be scared to be that person. Every team needs one.”
DR: “I hope the impression that I’ve made is that no matter what, always play with passion. Every serve, pass, set, and hit has to have a desire behind it. That desire should push you to strive and be the best you can.”
SP: “I hope I left an impression that dedication pays off. My teammates and I have worked hard playing volleyball, some of us since fifth grade, and it led to one of the best seasons this school has ever had. I want that impression to extend to the rest of our lives and encourage them to work hard and show them that nothing is impossible. Just a few years ago, we were an easy win for other teams and now we’re setting records for the school. I hope I was a good role model and teammate to these girls. I feel so lucky to have had such a loving, supportive team my senior year.”
RR: “I hope that I left my goofiness and sense of humor with the underclassmen. I always tried to make practice fun by dancing have fun and I hope that stays with them after I’m gone.”
SP: “Use your teammates as competition at practice, but motivation in a game. Put 100% into the sport because I promise you, it’ll be over before you know it and you’ll be thinking back. It’s a lot better to feel accomplished with your performance than to wish you did more.”
AW: “Keep pushing. Our team this year wasn’t a gifted group that came out of nowhere. We grinded our butts off for years before our program became this strong. My 8th grade season, I don’t think we won one game. Freshman year, we didn’t win half of our games. Four years later we were seated 4th in the district. We weren’t even fourth in our region my freshman year. Never stop working hard.”
DR: “Never give up on yourself or each other no matter how far down in points you are. We have come back in sets from being down by 10 plus points. There is never anything to lose so why get down?”
RR: “Always try your hardest. You all have immense potential and talent. Let it shine through.”
AW: “Hands down Courtney Clark. You can see the dedication she had put into this sport. Not only has she been our starting varsity setter since freshman year but freshman year was the last year she played with the girls who will make a big portion of the varsity team next year. The pressure is going to be on as she has to learn to play with people that she hasn’t for three years, or possibly at all with the new freshmen coming up. She’s been playing alongside us four seniors for her entire high school career. The thing I want to leave her is perseverance. Although she has proven to have it, she’s going to face a whole new challenge next year. Me personally playing basketball with a team of underclassmen, it can be very hard. I hope you never give up Courtney because you’re too good.
DR: “This question is the hardest one by far. I have so many underclassmen that I would love to include yet there is one person who I’ve watched grow and is only missing one key piece. That person is Abby Cable. Confidence is a huge part of the game of volleyball and what it can do to a player is like no other. Abby is an excellent player, but she could be just a little bit better if she had the confidence of a little brunette Spitfire.”
SP: “I would leave Paige Cresswell with a better attitude. That isn’t meant to sound demeaning or rude. I just know she gets in her own head easily and I want her to know I’m proud of her. We all make mistakes. That doesn’t make us any less deserving of our spot. We’re out there for a reason. Believe in yourself. You got this.”
RR: “ I would leave Courtney with optimism. She is a great setter and she deserves to have positive thoughts. She would always get down on herself and I would try to reassure her that she was doing good. So, I would give her optimism for next season.”
That in a nutshell is the impact the Lady Orioles left behind at the end of the 2021 season.
So three or four years from now when a photo pops up of the 2021 Lady Orioles what will be your first thought?
Sure you might think immediately, “That’s the team that finished second in Region 1 and won 12 matches.”
Pretty sure humble, genuine, driven and supportive won’t be too far behind.
Lisa has covered state champion volleyball programs in her tenure and is main reason girls athletics and volleyball has gotten such award winning coverage over the last 20 years. She has agreed to help us out here at Eight and 322 with this fall's volleyball season. We are thrilled to have her.
Lisa Renwick was a long-time sports reporter and sports editor for The Meadville Tribune. She recently took another job in order to spend time with her family and especially her daughter Brynlee who is entering kindergarten.
Lisa has covered state champion volleyball programs in her tenure and is main reason girls athletics and volleyball has gotten such award winning coverage over the last 20 years. She has agreed to help us out here at Eight and 322 with this fall's volleyball season. We are thrilled to have he